How the game came to America

China was a closed country for a very long time. Therefore, the world knew about Keno only at the beginning of the 19th century. That time immigrants from the Middle Kingdom started their search for better life and began spreading around the world. The brought the Chinese culture, Chinese tea, Chinese silk, and certainly their most popular game called Keno.

In America the game appeared in the middle of the 19th century, during the Gold Rush, when immigrants from China worked on the construction of railroads. That time there were a lot of “good fortune hunters”. Each of them was trying to get rich by all means: some of them were looking for golf in the rivers, some of them worked on their lands, and some of them win in Keno. The exciting new game has undergone some changes and was just what they needed. The characters were replaced by numbers and the numbers were reduced to 80. The procedure of choosing the winning combination at that time was very unusual. The Americans came up to use 20 paper boxes, each of them containing 80 sheets of paper with handwritten numbers. From each box at random was chosen one sheet of paper with a number. The 20 selected sheets with numbers form the winning combination. Over time, boxes and paper sheets were replaced by wooden balls. Later in the years, balls with painted numbers were used when playing ping – pong. Random number generators came well after, in the middle of the 20th century.

Although it was illegal, Keno was played a lot by the Chinese immigrants, especially around big cities like San Francisco. It became known as Chinese lottery. English speaking Americans were also interested in the game but for them the Chinese characters used in it were hard to be recognized. In the early 20th century the Chinese characters were replaced by Arabic numbers in order to attract more players. Although in 1931 Nevada legalized most types of gambling games, the lottery was still illegal and the Chinese lottery was definitely a lottery. In order to avoid this obstacle, Keno operators simply changed the name into “Race horse Keno”. Each number was considered a horse. When the U.S. government introduced a law on the taxation of betting on horse races, the name of the game was changed again into Keno.


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